by Dave Arnold, Canada
Everyone who shoots benchrest matches needs a bench to shoot from. Some ranges have "loaner" benches available, but they may not be "user friendly" to everyone who sits at them. To shoot winning scores, you need a bench that fits you and your gun(s). The other qualities that you want in a shooting bench are steadiness and the ability to be easily transported to and from the range. Because your needs in a bench may differ from mine, I would not be so presumptuous as to say this is the only style or size of bench that will work. However, this is the bench I use, and if you choose to copy it, or modify it to your own needs and likes, that is fine.
We want the bench to be heavy enough that its own weight adds to its steadiness, but not so heavy that you need to enlist the help of four men and a pony to move it from your vehicle onto the firing line. Therefore, the top should be made from a hardwood slab such as maple, oak, walnut, or ash. There must not be any "spring" to the top, so 11/4" to 11/2" is a good choice for thickness. The use of hardwood not only adds to the weight and strength of the bench top, it will also afford you the opportunity to put a nice finish on the wood portion of your bench. A good furniture finish will add to the appearance of your bench and protect the wood.
The length of the top of your bench will be decided mostly by the length of your gun(s). Having too short a bench, where you and the rifle butt are dangling off the back end, will not increase your scores. A rifle with a 40" to 42" barrel will fit nicely on a 60" to 65" bench top. Even if you have a shorter rifle than that, plan ahead, someday you may buy or build a longer rifle. So don't "short sheet" yourself when deciding on the length of your bench top. The legs also need to be strong and "non-springing". Four lengths of 1" inside diameter steel pipe threaded on one end will work well. For the average size male or female shooter, ranging in height from 5'2" to 6', the height of the top of your bench should be around the 30" mark. That's about the height of your kitchen table. Sit beside it and see if you need a lower or higher bench.
If you do need a bench in the 30" high range, the 1" pipe legs will need to be 28" long. Four pipe flanges will be used to hold the legs to the bench. A piece of 4" X 21/2" wood will form the undercarriage of the bench. Both the front and rear undercarriages must be cut to give the legs an outward and rear or forward slope (see figure 2 and figure 3). This will give the bench a wider and more braced contact with the ground. Be careful not to get to much slope on your legs or two things will result. You will either be tripping over the legs when you move around to place and remove your gun from the bench, or you will find that the more slope there is on the legs, the lower the top will be and you will need to lengthen the legs. To have the bench fold up for travel and storage is the next goal.
Four heavy duty 6" T hinges are required to attach the undercarriage and legs to the top of the bench. Screw the head or cross arm of the T hinge to the undercarriage and the strap of the T to the under side of the bench's top. Place the hinge so that the front and rear sets of legs fold toward each other. Having the legs fold under the bench makes it more compact for travel or storage, and as you can see in figure 2 , the legs have 11/4" angle iron braces on them. By attaching a strap or cord to the under side of the bench where the leg braces over lap each other, they can be fastened to the underside of the top in the folded position, thus preventing the legs from opening during handling.
Once the bench is placed on the firing line and the legs are dropped into position, they must be held or "locked" securely. I use a turn buckle and two pieces of " pipe with some 5/16" pieces fitted into a hole drilled in the center of the angle iron leg braces (see figure 1 and figure 2) . As the turn buckle is rotated, it forces the legs apart until they are rigid. Do not over extend the turn buckle to the point that you pull out the screws in the hinges that hold the legs to the top. "Firmly tight" is all that is needed to hold the legs apart in the open position.
To this point we have a bench top with 4 strong legs firmly attached and braced to it, but we have nothing to rest the muzzle of the rifle on. It makes no sense to build a good strong, steady bench and then have a muzzle rest that is not the equal of the bench. How many times have you seen a shooter stack sand bags to rest a rifle on only to have them shift, or topple over. This method also lacks the finesse of a screw adjustment for small increases or decreases of height for the muzzle rest.
If you have more of the same piece of wood you used for the top of the bench, cut a piece 12" long or as long as your bench is wide. Then cut this piece to a width of 8" (figure 4) . The other parts needed to construct the muzzle rest are: one piece of 1/4" plate steel 6" wide by as long as the bench is wide; three pieces of 11/4" X 1/4" X 4" steel; three pieces of 5/8" threaded rod 12" long; three 5/8" nuts; twelve 1" wood screws; and two 5/16" cap screws, one inch long. Place each of the 5/8" nuts in the center of the 1" X 4" pieces of steel and align the top edge of the nut parallel with the top edge of the steel plate. Clamp them together and arc weld as shown in figure 5 . If the nut is welded out of alignment, when it is inlet and mounted to the side of the bench top, it will bind and not turn freely.
With these made and installed in the top of the bench, as shown in figure 7 , lay the 6" X 12" steel plate over the two side nuts and mark where the 5/16" holes will be drilled so they line up with the center of the 5/8" nuts. The 5/16" holes should be 2" from the back edge of the plate. Drill the two 5/16" holes and six counter sunk holes for the screws that will fasten this plate to the bottom of the muzzle rest. Now, mark on the bottom of the muzzle rest where the two 5/16" holes are and counter bore the wood so the cap screw heads have plenty of clearance. Drill and tap a hole in one end of each of the two side elevating rods, to accept the 5/16" cap screws. Remember, the cap screw must pass through the " plate, but when you tighten the 5/16" cap screw in place, it must have enough clearance that it, and the 5/8" rod it is threaded into, can turn freely with only a maximum of .005" clearance between the plate and the end of the 5/8" rod. If you drill too deep, the 5/16" cap screw will tighten down on the plate and prevent the 5/8" rod and the cap screw from turning freely. If the 5/16" cap screw reaches the bottom of the hole it is threaded into and if you find to much space between the steel plate and the 5/8" rod, simply shorten the 5/16" screw the correct amount, but do this slowly so you don't over compensate and remove too much of the threads.
With the elevating rods attached to the underside of the steel plate by means of the two 5/16" cap screws, attach the wooden part of the muzzle rest to the plate so the elevating rods are 2" from the back side of the muzzle rest figure 4 . Thread the 5/8" elevating rods into the nuts attached to the side of the bench top. At this point, you will find the muzzle rest appears to be rather floppy, but with the third 5/8" rod threaded up through the nut which is mounted on the front edge of the bench, the front of the muzzle rest is properly braced. This forms a three point support for the muzzle rest, and the front elevating rod also acts as a lock once the two side rods are turned to the desired height.
The side rods can be used not only to raise and lower the muzzle rest, but level it as well if your bench is set on uneven ground. On one of my benches I even attached a small spirit level to the muzzle rest so I could easily see when I had it level. By drilling a 1/4" hole in the bottom end across the 5/8" rods, a small "L" shaped piece of 1/4" rod can be placed in the hole to form a handle that will allow you to "crank" the rod up or down. For best results, turn the side rods up or down together, so each side is raised evenly.
The next addition to the bench is a stop bar across the front of the muzzle rest figure 4 . This will allow the cant bar of your rifle to butt up against it as you lightly lean into the butt of your rifle. If the stop bar were not there, you would push your rifle forward until the cant bar slid over the front edge of the muzzle rest. Make it low enough so that your barrel doesn't rest on it. If that occurs, you will see the cant bar is not resting on the muzzle rest's platform and a side to side rocking motion is occurring. The rifle must rest on the cant bar in a level position. There is another option that may be used instead of the stop bar and that is a centering pin. This is simply a pin of steel made from a large wood screw turned into the top of the muzzle rest. It is generally placed about 1" back from the front and centered in the width of the muzzle rest. The cant bar of the rifle has a small groove in it to fit the pin. After the screw is turned into the wood, the pin is cut to the height that will match and fit the groove in the front of the cant bar on the rifle. This assures that the rifle is always put in the same position for firing by centering it on the pin. This also stops forward motion just as the stop bar did. If you have several rifles of various designs, you may want a pin and a stop bar on your muzzle rest.
If you are the type of shooter who prefers to load back at the loading benches rather than at the shooting bench, then you are pretty well done building your shooting bench at this point. Stain the wood and protect it with your choice of finish, paint the metal parts, and voila! You have a shooting bench!
But if you like to load right at the back of your shooting bench like I do, (so I don't have to move 52 pounds of gun so far) you may want the additional option of a loading stand on the back of your bench.
The use of wingnuts, as shown in
figure 8 , will allow you to "drop" the loading stand
quickly and easily for transportation or storage. The stand used in figure 8 was made from the
same wood as the bench top and muzzle rest, so when it was finished it all matched. The lower
shelf actually forms a "pocket" behind the back of the bench top and I like to keep my supply of
caps in there, as well as my cap remover. The center shelf acts as a brace to strengthen the loading
stand but is also handy for small items such as the top off your powder can etc. On the top shelf,
or platform, there is a notch to lean your rifle into so it will not fall over. The 10" X 12" surface is
large enough for my starter, patch knife, small hammer, a can of balls, a container of cleaning
patches, powder measure, and a can with strips of teflon patching. You can lay out the needs of
your own loading procedures as you like on your loading stand. The guard rail around the edge of
the top is really a necessity to prevent your equipment from being bumped off the top of the
loading stand. With or without the optional loading stand you now have a strong, steady, portable
shooting bench that looks like a piece of fine furniture and easily folds up for travel. The last thing
you need to go with your new shooting bench is a good solid seat to sit on. Your scores will not
improve, even if your bench and rifle are rock solid, if you are wiggling all over because your butt
is perched on an unstable seat that is not the right height for you and your new shooting bench.